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Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and recession, many Americans are struggling to pay their bills — and as a result, credit card issuers are pulling back on the available credit they are offering consumers. That means not only is it harder to get approved for new credit cards, but cardholders are seeing credit limits on their existing cards slashed, too.
“Lenders are being proactive by lowering limits and increasing score requirements so they are protected from a spike in defaults and losses,” says John Ulzheimer, a credit expert. He adds that even consumers with good credit are seeing their credit limits cut, and that he personally has had the credit limit lowered on two cards in the last month or so.
Still, even in this climate, there are ways to increase your chances of maintaining easy access to credit, starting with these five steps:
Work on your credit score
Credit card issuers are trying to reduce their own risk by doing what is called a “flight to quality,” Ulzheimer explains. That means they are trying to shift their business to consumers with higher credit scores whom they deem less likely to default on their credit card payments. “When you increase credit score requirements, the risk of your new customers defaulting or missing payments is less,” he says.
Consumers with good credit scores (typically FICO scores of 690 and up) are not totally immune to the recession’s impact on credit limits, but they tend to be the last ones to have their credit limits lowered and the most likely to still qualify for a loan or credit card, Ulzheimer says.
If you're eyeing a credit card but you have less-than-good credit, focus on your credit scores: Make on-time payments each month, keep your credit utilization rate below 30% or so, and keep any older credit cards open to lengthen your credit history.
Consider different cards
Not all credit cards require good to excellent credit; in fact, some cards are geared toward consumers who are still building their credit. In general, cash back and travel rewards cards require good to excellent credit even in normal times, and especially so during the COVID-19 crisis.
So if, for example, you have poor credit (FICO scores of 629 or below), it can make more sense to apply instead for cards targeted toward people with bad credit. These cards often make it possible to improve your credit over time so you can qualify for better cards down the road.
Apply for a secured card
Secured credit cards can also help people build credit: You put down a certain amount of money upfront, and then you can spend up to that amount on the card.
Like cards targeted toward people with bad credit, secured cards also make it possible to build your credit over time.
Wait it out
At a time when so many travel and entertainment limitations are still in place, maybe you don’t need a new rewards card or travel card?
Instead of applying for new cards now when so much is in flux, it may make sense to wait out the current recession if you're able to (while still doing things to build your credit, of course).
You may end up with more options later.
Monitor the market
Even during this recession and global pandemic, credit card issuers are launching new products and tweaking existing ones. Your future favorite card might not even exist yet. So keep an eye on new cards hitting the market and the changes being made to the ones currently available.
That way, you’ll be ready to apply for the card you want once life starts to inch back to normal.